I loved the original Happy Feet, but five years later only liked this sequel. It’s still a lot of fun to see dancing, singing penguins, but the meandering storyline never catches hold.
In the original, a small Emperor penguin named Mumbles (Elijah Wood) could not sing like the others but loved to dance and ultimately found a way to be true to himself and be a part of the community. Toward the end, the movie took a darker turn by acknowledging the impact of climate change on the Antarctic’s pristine world. This movie seems to have adopted the same template with a few random variations. Once again, there is a mash-up of music from a variety of genres (now a more familiar idea in this post “Glee”-era) and a small penguin who does not fit in, but this movie begins with the environmental crisis as the penguins see something — and a color — that is new to their black and white world. The ice is beginning to melt and underneath is green grass.
Wood returns as Mumbles, with rock star Pink replacing the late Brittany Murphy as his spouse, Gloria. Their son son Erik (Ava Acres) is a misfit like his father. He cannot sing or dance and after a humiliating failure in front of the whole penguin tribe, he runs away from home, followed by two of his friends, Atticus and Boadicia (charmingly voiced by Benjamin Flores Jr. and Meibh Campbell). As Mumbles did in the first film, they meet up with some Adelies penguins led by the wild, sweater-wearing Lovelace (Robin Williams), who has a new friend, Sven (voice superstar Hank Azaria), a penguin with the ability to fly — and a secret about his identity. Mumbles goes after the penguin chicks, but on the way home, they find that the ice has broken apart so that their community is cut off. They cannot get back and their friends and family cannot get food. They will need the help of the Andelies and some other friends to rescue the Emperor penguins and find a new home. Meanwhile, though the penguins have no idea, a couple of microscopic krill named Will and Bill (voices of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) are on an adventure of their own, trying to move beyond the hive mind of their species to evolve into something more independent.
The music choices are delightful but too often just frustrating snippets. The relationship between Mumbles and Erik never comes to life. The segments about Will and Bill are far more engaging (the movie I’d really like to see is the Pitt/Damon recording studio riffs), but they are not integrated enough to the rest of the storyline until a Cindy Lou Who moment at the end. It’s nice to make a movie about how everything is connected but in this movie, it does not really hold together.
Parents should know that there is understated but sometimes disturbing material about environmental deterioration of the Antarctic environment. Characters are in peril and there are some (briefly) scary animals. A character feels like an outcast and there is brief potty humor.
Family discussion: Why did Erik feel that he could not fit in? Why did Will and Bill have different ideas about what they should try to accomplish? Learn more about penguins and the threat to their domicile.
If you like this, try: the original “Happy Feet” and “March of the Penguins”